Book Chapter

Forest Elephant Movements in Central Africa: Megafauna Need Megaspaces



Blake S & Maisels F (2023) Forest Elephant Movements in Central Africa: Megafauna Need Megaspaces. In: Reyna-Hurtado R, Chapman CA & Melletti M (eds.) Movement Ecology of Afrotropical Forest Mammals. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp. 27-58.

To survive, all organisms must maximize energy input and reproductive output and minimize risk. This applies to how they travel through their environment. Due to numerous mechanical and physical laws that scale allometrically, forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis), as the largest vertebrate inhabitants of Africa’s dense tropical forests, solve this optimization in rather different ways than the smallest, for example, shrews. In this chapter, we discuss how body size influences animal ranging and why elephants ought to have very large ranges. We then use GPS telemetry data we collected ourselves and additional data from published studies to characterize home range size and other movement metrics of forest elephants in Central Africa. We demonstrate how the availability of water, food, nutrients, social organization, sex, and personality combines to drive the movements of forest elephants. We conclude that these factors are largely trumped by a human-induced landscape of fear throughout the range of forest elephants. We explain how the combination of large body size and the extent of forest elephant movements lead to their profound ecosystem engineering impacts, which help maintain forest biodiversity and increase carbon sequestration. We then show how human activities, primarily poaching and infrastructure development, restrict elephant movements, with negative consequences for forest function that have globally relevant ramifications. We finally argue that if forest elephant movements in their present form are to be maintained, the planet’s rich nations must match and surpass the impressive legislation for protected areas made by forest elephant range states in their commitment to demand and create the economic conditions needed for the sustainable management of tropical forest resources, including elephants.

Animal movement Tropical forest; Congo Basin; Conservation; Ecosystem engineer; Home range

Publication date31/12/2023
Publication date online30/04/2023
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland

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Professor Fiona Maisels

Professor Fiona Maisels

Honorary Professor, Biological and Environmental Sciences